Collection Description

Culture Name

Mam Maya

Culture Description

The Mam Maya are contemporary Maya Indians living in southwestern Guatemala. Not since the Spanish Conquest, and perhaps never, have the Mam Maya constituted a unified polity or society. They share many cultural traits with other Maya of Guatemala but remain divided into local communities and linguistically distinct subgroups with no pan-Mam or pan-Maya identity. Since pre-Hispanic times, Mam Maya have been primarily subsistence farmers, cultivating the typical Mesoamerican crops of maize, beans, and squash. Some Mam Maya engage in small-scale coffee farming, wage labor and small-scale trading.


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Middle America and the Caribbean --Maya Area




OWC Code


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Collection Overview

Documents referred to in this section are included in eHRAF World Cultures and are referenced by author, date of publication and eHRAF document number.

Documents in the Mam Maya Collection (NW08), all of them in English, provide first hand accounts of culture and society as observed in late 1930s and 1980s.  Two of these documents are the works of anthropologist Charles Wagley who lived in the Mam Mayan town of Santiago Chimaltenango in 1937 when the influence of the Guatemalan government on indigenous communities was still very minimal. In the first work, Wagley describes economic life with particular emphasis on agricultural practices, land tenure, wage labor, and trends in consumption and economic stratification (Wagley 1941, no.1). The second work focuses on social organization and religious beliefs. Topics discussed include kinship, the expected life cycle of individuals and families, and religious organizations (Wagley 1949, no. 2). This document also contains a field diary by Juan de Dios Rosales, a researcher with the Carnegie Institution who visited Santiago Chimaltenango in 1944 looking for nutritional information on indigenous Mayan diet. The collection also includes a fairly recent book by anthropologist John Watanabe who, inspired by Wagley, conducted extensive fieldwork in Santiago Chimaltenango in 1978-1988. Watanabe is mainly concerned with the interplay of identity, history, and experience in this Mam-speaking Maya community. He builds on contemporary anthropological theories on ethnicity and social change to argue that the continuity of Mam Maya's ethnic distinctiveness has to do with to specific social, economic and political processes that shaped their choices and relationships, as opposed to some enduring cultural sentiments or powerful external forces (Watannabe 1992, no. 15). For more detailed information on the context of the individual works in the file, see the abstracts in the citations preceding each document.

Overview by

Teferi Adem

Aanma- soul – - use "ANIMISM (774)" with "ESCHATOLOGY (775)"

Alcalde- town Mayor, highest civil official of a municipio- - use "LOCAL OFFICIALS (624)"

Aldea- hamlet, outlying settlement of a municipio - use "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)" with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"

Cacique – local political leader or boss - use "COMMUNITY HEADS (622)" with "STATUS, ROLE, AND PRESTIGE (554)"

Campesino-  rural dweller, small farmer - use "TILLAGE (241)"  with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"  

Cargo – religious cult and residential association with varied functions - use "CONGREGATIONS (794)" with "COMMUNITY STRUCTURE (621)"


Chmaan – "grand father", shaman curer and calendrical diviner - use "SHAMANS AND PSYCHOTHERAPISTS (756)" with "REVELATION AND DIVINATION (787)"

Congregacion - colonial resettlement of scattered Maya population into nucleated Spanish-style towns - use "INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (648)" with "SETTLEMENT PATTERNS (361)"  

Ejido – Inalienable common land allotted to Maya communities during the colonial period  - use "REAL PROPERTY (423)" with "INTERNATIONAL RELATIONS (648)"

Ky'aawil- sorcerer - use "SORCERY (754)"

Ladino- Spanish-speaking Mestizo identifying in dress and outlook as different from indigenous Maya population - use "INTER - ETHNIC RELATIONS (629)" with "ETHNIC STRATIFICATION (563)"

Municipio – local administrative unit which for the Maya also constitutes an ethnic community with distinctive dress, speech, and custom - use "CULTURAL IDENTITY AND PRIDE (186)" with "INTER - ETHNIC RELATIONS (629)" and/or "TERRITORIAL HIERARCHY (631)"  

Naab'l – a person's "way of being" that involves perceptual sense and social sensibility - use "SOCIAL PERSONALITY (156)" and/or "PERSONALITY TRAITS with "ETHNOPSYCHOLOGY (828)"

Regidor- town councilman - use "COUNCILS (623)"

Witz-  a prominent landscape (usually a mountain) believed to house the owners of certain spirits - use "ANIMISM (774)" with "SPIRITS AND GODS (776)"

Indexing Notes by

Teferi Adem

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